Not Everyone’s in for the Safety Dance

Safety and Employee Engagement

By In Weekly Email 5 Minute Read Time

Not Everyone’s in for the Safety Dance: Safety and Employee Engagement

We like good laughs here at The Kimono. We muzzle our cheer, though, when it comes to safety. In 2014, OSHA reported that 13 employees died in workplace accidents on American soil. Every single day! Let that sink in for a bit. A research team led by Berrin Erdogan from Portland State University sought out to understand what happened to employees who were involved in an accident and how it, in essence, changed them and affected the organization. Their work was recently published in Personnel Psychology.

The Research 

They tossed out a couple of grand theories. For starters, they suggest that when an employee is involved in an accident, people will respond differently depending on whether they’re in the empowerment camp or the learned helplessness camp. The distinction is a meaningful one. Employees that feel empowered believe they’ve got control over their own destiny. In contrast, those that feel learned helplessness think they’ve got little control over their future and are kinda resigned to whatever happens. Yes, they toss their hands in the air like they just don’t care. Essentially, when employees feel no control, they still feel a need to lash out in different ways as their anger must be directed somewhere.

To test these theories, they surveyed workers involved in accidents in steel mills in Turkey, which, according to some recent stats, may be more dangerous than Kabul, Afghanistan. What’s cool about their study is that they surveyed the supervisors of these employees, as well.  

Lack of Safety Leads to Withdrawn Employees

So, let’s put the lessons up on the board. First, don’t ever work in Turkey. If you do, don’t work in steel mills where your life expectancy will drop by half. Second, they found that after an accident, helpless employees were more likely to withdraw and sit in the corner. Third, they found that after an accident, employees who felt low empowerment, were much more likely to engage in production deviance, like not following the production schedule or purposely not following instructions. And, if that wasn’t enough, these withdrawn, pissed off workers were more likely to play saboteur. They’d do stuff like intentionally waste employer materials and supplies. They found these effects even after controlling for the plant’s safety culture. So, above and beyond the safety culture of the facility, low worker empowerment after an accident resulted in despondent and withdrawn employees who were more apt to stick their middle finger at production rules or, quite literally, throw a wrench into the production process.

Safe Employees are Engaged Employees

Employee engagement and empowerment are the buzz words of the day, say The Kimono. Puke. But, maybe, they’re worth the hype. Empowered employees react differently (and better) than those that feel no power and control. So, to ensure that everyone’s invited to the Safety Dance, we may need to transfer some of our leadership and supervisory power down to the masses. At The Kimono, we’re about giving power to the people; now you know why.

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